Getting a cancer diagnosis is likely to be one of the most overwhelming things that has ever happened to you. One minute, everything was going according to plan and now several uncertainties seem to lie ahead. Know that you are not alone and that there are many resources and support systems to help you manage the twists and turns you are likely to face on your cancer journey.
Cancer and its treatments will affect many aspects of your day-to-day life. Taking steps to ensure you are maintaining a healthy lifestyle can make a world of difference in how you get through your cancer journey. Below you will find starting points for maintaining or improving your physical, mental and emotional health following a cancer diagnosis.
By empowering yourself, you choose to adopt a series of actions, behaviors and attitudes that can improve the quality of your life. This can include making an effort to to become educated about your cancer diagnosis, treatment, health care team and ways to improve your health as you go throught treatment. It’s not about making monumental changes but rather taking small steps to gain a sense of confidence and control as you move forward with your cancer treatment.
Remember: You are the expert in your cancer experience. You know how you feel, what is important to you, and what you want. Share this information with your doctors. Ask questions. Gain knowledge. Doing so will help ensure that you are comfortable with the decisions being made about your cancer treatments.
Communicate regularly and clearly with your cancer care team to ensure your care is tailored to you. Your active participation will help you gain confidence and improve your quality of life. Also, knowing who is on your cancer care team will make it easier for you to ask questions, manage your treatment and find resources.
Learn more about the members of your cancer care team.
Make the Most Out of Your Appointments
Most doctors are pressed for time. You can make the most out of your appointments by:
- Researching your treatment options.
- Writing down questions before you see your doctor.
- Taking notes or recording the appointment.
- Bringing someone with you to your appointments.
- Repeating back what your doctor has said to be sure you fully understand what he or she has said.
- Asking questions from members of your health care team. You may find that the oncology nurse has more time to answer questions than your doctor does.
Learn how to Manage Your Health Care
Know the Answer to These Questions
Getting answers to these questions from your cancer care team are steps you can take to feel more empowered and more confident.
- What is each member of my cancer care team’s role in my care? How can I best take advantage of each of their areas of expertise?
- What is the stage, type and spread of my cancer?
- What treatments are best for me and why?
- What are the risks and benefits of each treatment option?
- How much will my treatment cost? Who can I talk to about payment plans, insurance questions or other financial issues?
- What are the trusted websites I should turn to for more information about my type of cancer?
- What side effects should I expect and how can I manage them?
- What can I do to feel better?
- Who can I contact if I have questions or concerns?
- Who do I call to report symptoms or side effects I am experiencing?
- What is the best way to communicate? Phone? Email?
- Is there another patient I can speak with who has a similar diagnosis?
Knowing you have taken steps to help prevent infections can help you feel more confident and improve your quality of life during cancer treatments. These are some questions you can ask your cancer care team about actions you can take to reduce your risk of infection:
- What does my blood test number mean? How often should I be tested?
- What are some things I can do to avoid getting an infection.
- What are the signs of an infection and what should I do if I think I'm getting sick?
- Are there vaccines I should receive before, during or after my treatments?
A healthy diet will improve your quality of life by giving you the fuel and energy you need to keep up your strength during your cancer treatments. It will also lower your risk of infection and help you heal and recover. You will want to try to:
- Eat at least five servings of fruits and vegetables each day.
- Add extra protein to your diet. Protein helps heal tissues and fight off infections.
- Try to eat whole grains, like whole wheat bread or tortillas, oats and brown rice.
- Add legumes, like beans and lentils, to your diet.
- Go easy on fats, sat, sugar and smoked and pickled foods.
- Avoid drinking alcohol.
- Unless your cancer care team says otherwise, drink plenty of water to stay hydrated.
- Try to teat small, frequent snacks rather than three larger meals. Plan your larger meals for the time of day you have the best appetite.
- Tell your care team if you experience nausea, diarrhea or constipation or changes in smell or taste. There are ways to alleviate these side effects.
Empower yourself by asking a nutritionist or dietitian questions such as:
- What are your dietary recommendations for someone with cancer?
- How can I eat when I feel nauseated and don’t have an appetite?
- What is a healthy weight for me? How can I adjust my diet to meet this weight?
- How should my diet be changed to accommodate the side effects I am experiencing?
- How can I get the increased protein and calories that is recommended for cancer patients?
Getting physical exercise on a regular basis can help you regain your sense of control over your body as well as improve your physical and mental health. Exercise guidelines for cancer patients developed by the American College of Sports Medicine recommend 30 minutes of moderate-paced activity a day, five days a week—with individual adjustments made for the patient’s needs.
However, before you start or resume an exercise program speak with your cancer care team. The exercise you do should be adjusted and adapted as necessary depending on your fitness level, diagnosis and cancer treatments your are or will be receiving. Your care team can also tell you what to be aware of as a sign you might be overdoing it as well as provide suggestions for exercise programs that are safe for you. You will feel more confident about the physical exercise program you start or resume if you ask your health care team these questions:
- Is my body and heart healthy enough for me to exercise?
- What type of exercise is safe and beneficial for me?
- What precautions should I take when it comes to exercising?
- How often and when should I or should I not exercise?
Learn more about exercise during and after cancer treatments.
Learn How to Manage Stress
One of the best ways to manage stress is to reach out to others who understand how you are feelings. You can find these people through the many free support groups and educational programs available for people who have been diagnosed with cancer.
Tips for Managing Stress
- Recognize the emotions you are feeling.
- Find ways to express your feelings, such as writing in a journal or joining a support group.
- Seek support when you need it. Seeking out support is not a sign of weakness. It a sign of the strength and an action you can take to empower yourself.
- Develop stress management habits.
- Reduce stress by making lists. This will help you stay organized. It will also help you identify things you may need help with.
- Take time to relax and relieve your tension. Yoga, Tai Chi, breathing exercises and meditation can help. So can going for a walk.
Empower yourself to manage stress by taking the time to think about:
- What is important to me?
- How can I improve my health?
- What changes do I need to make to get more exercise and eat more healthy foods?
- How can I spend more time with people I enjoy?
- What plans can I make that will give me something to look forward to?
- What can I do that will give me feel hopeful and peaceful?
You may have cancer, but cancer doesn’t have you. Cancer is difficult and challenging. But these difficulties and challenges can also impact your life in positive ways. While you are going through treatment—and after cancer treatment ends—it is important to try to maintain hope, to do what you can to feel healthy and gain energy, and to spend time with people who make you feel good.
Maintaining hope goes along with taking these key steps towards a healthy lifestyle:
- Set goals: Choose behaviors and actions to work toward helping make changes stick and keep you motivated.
- Ask for help: There are many people who want to help you. One way they can help is by helping you focus on and supporting you when you take steps to being healthy.
- Track your progress: It will help you to see how far you’ve come in reaching your goal and identify any changes you need to make to achieve it.
- Be patient with yourself: Change takes time and setbacks may occur. Focus on what you’ve achieved and continue to move forward.
- Recognize your achievements and reward yourself. Look at all that you have accomplished. Take time to be proud of yourself.
For more tips and a full list of available resources, read Frankly Speaking About Cancer: Living Healthy with Cancer.